on April 26, 2002 by Tim Cogshell
   Director Dirk Shafer's debut film, a 1995 mockumentary called "Man of the Year" about a Playgirl Centerfold who happened to be gay (starring the chiseled director himself), was lighthearted and funny. "Circuit," his current release, is an extreme departure from that milieu. With shades of "Cruising" and "Looking for Mr. Goodbar," this film is about the allures of the fringe of an already fringe culture--in this case, the circuit party scene common in the West Hollywood gay community, where music, drugs, muscles and anonymous sex are the point.

   Filtered through the perspective of a displaced young gay cop, John (Jonathan Wade Drahos), who's fleeing the homophobic attitudes of his small-town roots, "Circuit" is both a window into a fascinating lifestyle and a cautionary tale about excess. John moves in with Nina (Kiersten Warren), an old high school friend who relocated to Los Angeles some time earlier. At first, he finds solace in the openly gay community of Southern California. This is particularly easy for a handsome, bright young man like John--a fact director Shafer and co-writer Greg Hinton make pointedly in the movie: Everything is very much about surface appeal. When he meets Hector (Andre Khabazzi) at a party of the sort he's never known, John quickly becomes caught up in all those previously mentioned temptations. It's isn't long before he loses himself, physically and emotionally, in the fast and destructive lifestyle. Even a genuine relationship, it seems, cannot help him find his way back to the stable self he once knew. There's always one more party, and some good excuse to go.

   Shafer, to his credit, is unflinching in his exploration of the dark side of this particular niche of gay life, yet he manages to make it clear that it is indeed just a niche. The film, nevertheless, may come off as didactic to some, and at two languid hours it's certainly too long. The performances by the seemingly novice lead players are stilted, though supporting work by Nancy Allen, William Katt and a few other professionals is solid. The film itself is about something very interesting and odd that would probably work better as a real documentary without the insinuation of mediocre acting or a fairly trite narrative. Starring Jonathan Wade Drahos, Andre Khabbazi, Kiersten Warren, Brain Lane Green, Daniel Kucan, Paul Lekakis, Stanton Schnepp, William Katt, JM J. Bullock, Randal Kleiser and Nancy Allen. Directed by Dirk Shafer. Written by Gregory Hinton and Dirk Shafer. Produced by Gregory Hinton, Michael Roth and Steven J. Wolfe. A Jour de Fete release. Drama. Unrated. Running time: 120 min

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